The British home is certainly the champion symbol of its nation’s architectural landscape. Georgian and Victorian houses are admired on a daily basis, and are synonymous with the British aesthetic. With this exhibition, A Place to Call Home: Where We Live and Why, the Royal Institute of British Architects has dispelled that iconic lens through which British homes are viewed, and has instead provided an in-depth and historically rich account of the evolution of the British home from the eighteenth century up until the present.
The show is not strictly about the evolution of British homes, but generally a perceptive look at the way that people have lived in Britain, and how their way of life has been shaped by their immediate surroundings. The information within the show oscillates between portions of texts staggered along a concise timeline, and digital versions of stunning photographs showing some of the stalwart housing schemes in Britain as they were built over time.
The winning feature of the exhibition is its ability to educate without condescension. This is not a members-only show. It is packed with legible information, and its scope goes beyond its core subject, to offer contextual insight into themes such as political affairs and the evolution of the media.
So much so, that if one is looking to understand the phenomenon of class structures in Britain, this exhibition provides a highly realistic and relatable explanation. It does so by uncovering the discrepancies between the physical structures of the country’s differing social sectors, with reproductions of the earliest housing plans differing in luxury according to class ranking.
That being said, this exhibition is not about class, nor politics, nor media, nor culture, nor health – though it does touch gracefully on each of these subjects in both its textual timeline and its visual display (which also makes use of artifacts such as posters and advertisements relating to housing developments from varying decades). This exhibition is about the treatment of space in the design of British homes throughout history. Or the lack thereof.
The show serves as a quiet commentary on the fact that British homes are some of the smallest in Europe. Its aim works in partnership with the RIBA’s formerly-launched campaign entitled A Case for Space, which advocated for housing in London to be conceived with greater floorspace in mind, as opposed to simply according to the number of bedrooms desired. The RIBA is currently working with the Future Homes Commission, an independent set-up working towards enforcing new strategies for home design, which has increased space as a predominant priority.
‘Space’ within the actual exhibition is, however, treated in a somewhat oblique fashion. Very few floor plans are on display, meaning one is pressed to understand the nature of the homes presented beyond their facades. The absence of such drawings does go towards attracting a wider audience, by foregoing the risk of over-technicality. To remedy this omission, though, there could have been more imagery showing interior space.
The end of the timeline, and the exhibition itself, poses a challenge. It asks that we might rethink the way in which we build our homes while we have been provided with a lull in building production due to economic circumstances. More plainly, it invites contemplation on what the home means to the individual. How it has its mark on us psychologically, and how it provides us with a sense of identity. It’s an exhibition which is relatable to anyone who has lived between four walls. Also it’s free, and a stone’s throw away from Regent’s Park, so definitely worth a look.